Pi-Top: Reviewing a Raspberry Pi 3 Laptop

So, been using my Pi-Top for about 3 days now. I have to say, out of 10, I rate it a 7-out-of-10. In fact, composing this post on it right meow.

The Good

Well, you get a pretty slick package that makes your Pi portable, and battery powered, without cabling dangling all over the place. Yes, it can be done neatly without a kit (I’ve seen some of the projects here), but this puts it all in a nice looking form factor. Plus, the hub board provides power management (ie, sudo halt halts the pi, and powers down, for example). For this alone, it get a bonus star.

It is definitely a conversation starter in the lime green! People want to know what it is, and get pretty excited when they see and hear about it.

Battery life is phenomenal. Over two days of heavy usage (Trying to replace my workstation), I’ve charged twice: Initial charge after build, and once this afternoon for an hour. I have 92% left still.

The build took about 45 minutes to complete. One hour if you include unboxing everything. The manual is pretty clear on how to do it too, although, it could be better (I’ll get to that later).

The screen i nice. I’ve used it outdoors, and it’s easy to view. Non-glare, all that. Brightness doesn’t go down low enough to use in a dark room, IMO.

All in all: For a sysadmin, this could replace your workstation (Since most sysadmins I know are in a remote console most of the day, anyways). No, you’re not running any VM’s on this thing, but you can SSH, VPN, and RDP all day on this.

The Bad

This device, while I enjoy using it, does have some pain points.

The worst: This keyboard is by far, the worst I’ve ever used. It’s functional, but I feel they should have gone with a cheap membrane keyboard than this one. It feels like the keyboard on the Timex Sinclair, but… “stickier”. Keys require quite a bit of force, and they sometimes stick. While I’ve used it all day, it’s not… Shall we say… Enjoyable. 2 stars off for this.

The other two stars comes off for “niggles”, IMO.

The case, while functional, was obviously not designed by someone with a lot of experience with materials engineering. The top and bottom of the case snap together using ball head screws. For a case that was designed for makers, the injection molded case wont stand up to repeated disassembling. Someone with decent experience with materials would have said: You know? Screws will work fine here.

The assembly manual lacks some details. For example, routing the GPIO cable. Nowhere in the manual does it tell you to route it in a small track in the case. It’s obvious to someone like myself, but for a learner, they wouldn’t know. Also, being targeted at makers, you would think they would include a BOM for main components: LCD panel, battery module, connectors used, etc etc.

Also, the lid with the display, AFAIK, doesn’t come apart easily. I’d hate to try and install a touch overlay. Again, huge oversight for a maker’s laptop.

Lastly, the battery module. It’s sealed in the base. In about 1.5 years, I’ll have to replace this battery. I’m positive I will have to destroy the base pretty good to get in there, and hopefully, it’s a somewhat standard battery module. That’s if I don’t break the case while pulling the snap-together pieces apart (Hello? Screws would have made this easy).

Neutral

While I’ve seen some lamenting over the price ($300, Pi included), I believe people miss the point. While raw materials for this would likely approach $225 alone (small volumes are a bitch folks), the “sauce” is in the fact that it’s a kit. You don’t need to hunt parts. They are all there. I see the same complaints in the ham world: A FT-857 is $600, but a Elecraft kit is $2000, and the Elecraft does less! Well, the Elecraft, you get to customize what you want, and what you don’t. Same with other kits: Yes, they tend toward being more expensive than COTS solutions… But, that’s not the point.

Summary

I hope my “niggles” get resolved in Gen 2 (whenever that is), and I hope Gen 1 parts stay available forever. I got this for my laptop, because I was sick of getting new laptops whenever I needed to upgrade a CPU/RAM/whatever. I’d like to be able to replace components for as long as I can.

If they can resolve only one thing? They need to fix the keyboard, and they should probably do it now, by finding a suitable replacement. For a linux user, we live and die by keyboards. I would not want this to be my only possible keyboard.

But, it runs Linux. Like, Linux is the native option. Not a Mac, trying to “Make it work”. Not a SP3/4, in the same boat, wondering kernel updates killing wifi… It is the default. Things will work.

So, loses two stars for the keyboard, and two stars for my niggles. The bonus adds one more star (Seriously, halt works now with this, and I can get battery usage/status). Gives you 7/10.

If you’re looking for a kit laptop, I’d recommend it. If you’re looking for a cheap portable, look elsewhere. If you want the sleekest machine out there, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for something you can access the guts while powered on? This is your baby. If you want to upgrade by buying a new machine? Not for you. If you want to be able to upgrade by dropping a new board in? This is the ticket.

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